Reach for the Stars, Reach for the Best in Ourselves, Reach for Each Other: Star Trek: Discovery, Season 2

2×01 “Brother”

Now this is more like it!

Seriously, I remembered season 2 being a whole lot better, but I didn’t remember how hard it hit the ground running on cleaning up the mess that season 1 left. Pike is such a breath of fresh air, and immediately enters the conversation as one of the best Star Trek captains. I love his extremely Picard-adjacent collaborative decision-making process.

This episode actually ends up superficially resembling the first episode of season 1 (there’s even a line of dialogue that draws attention to this, something like “the last time you investigated an unexplained anomaly it started a war”) complete with Burnam & co using those little pod thingies to penetrate the asteroid field to investigate for survivors of the Hiawatha. There’s also a pretty freaking awesome moment where Burnam has to rescue Pike, and the entire episode really seems to be about getting the Discovery crew to trust him and him to trust the Discovery crew and this just does such a good job of that.

Anyway, instead of a Federation-Klingon War the result of Discovery’s investigation is Tig Notaro as an explicitly lesbian Starfleet officer (this will be established in a later episode). So, yeah. Kind of blatantly better, there.

Going along with the aforementioned running theme of this episode being about establishing the crew’s relationship with Pike, there’s this cool little moment where Pike asks the bridge crew to introduce themselves and the camera pans around the bridge as they all do just that. And that actually foreshadows one of the running themes of this entire season, which is that the bridge crew gets way more opportunities to shine than they did in the first season.

I am excited to welcome Star Trek back to Star Trek: Discovery. It only took a whole season to find its way here.

(A-Rank)

2×02 “New Eden”

Despite tying into the larger plot, this is nevertheless a fantastic “monster of the week” episode (which we got a grand total of none of in season 1). At times this felt more like a TNG episode than an early Discovery episode. And Pike continues to be the fucking best.

Also, Tilly and Detmer get incredibly excited about doing a donut in space, and it’s the most adorable thing ever. Silvia Tilly, you are the fucking best.

(A-Rank)

2×03 “Point of Light”

This episode is like 50% nuTrek Klingon stuff, and 50% Burnam being Spock’s secret sister, so, yeah, no thank you. I actually love the interactions between Burnam and Amanda, but I still kind of hate the entire concept of Spock having another secret sibling and I can’t wait until we get past that.

Oh, I guess it isn’t quite 50/50 because we do get a continuation of the Tilly/May/mycelial network stuff. It’s pretty well-written, and I really do like where it eventually leads, but it was a little hard to enjoy because you just kind of feel bad for Tilly the whole time. I’m not saying it was bad, it was actually probably the best part of the episode. Just, yeah. A little hard to get through at times all the same.

Oh, and obviously I do love L’Rell mommy domming the entire freaking Empire, but I hate how we got here.

(C-Rank)

2×04 “An Obol for Charon”

Discovery’s encounter with the Sphere is one of the most Star Trekky things that has ever happened on this show, and Saru’s subplot is one of the most emotionally moving plots on the entire show. The first time I saw this I was legit sobbing at the scene where Michael is helping him go through Vahar’ai. Having that turn so quickly from the tragic death of one of the best characters on the show to a triumphant moment with staggering implications for the future was incredible, and even before that happened it was so moving seeing how far Saru and Michael’s relationship has come.

Oh, yeah, and just as a cherry on top we also get the continuation of the Tilly/May storyline and this includes some phenomenal interactions between Stamets and Reno.

Taken together, all of this is more than enough to make it the show’s first…

(S-Rank)

2×05 “Saints of Imperfection”

When Tilly gets shockingly sucked into the mycelial network at the end of the previous episode, Stamets and Burnam have to figure out a way to save their friend. Discovery half-jumping into the network fucking rules, and Tilly’s delivery of “… I think that’s for me” when like half the saucer section appears to her and May overhead is one of my favorite lines in the entire series. They so consistently give Tilly the best lines and it’s just such a fantastic choice.

Resurrecting Dr. Culber undoes a huge mistake made by the first season, and appropriately it takes quite a bit of struggle to make it happen. It wouldn’t have felt right if it was basically perfunctory. It’s still a bit frustrating that it was necessary in the first place, which is probably the biggest thing holding this episode back for me because it’s the closest this season has come to feeling like it’s doing the season 1 awkward shuffling stuff around thing, but it’s executed about as well as it could be. And we get blatant Tilly/May shippiness on top of it all! This show is so gay, I love it.

(B-Rank)

2×06 “The Sound of Thunder”

Saru returns to his homeworld and gets to be the big damn hero of this episode, liberating his people from their oppressors. Pike is initially resistant to this course of action and even goes so far as to have his first officer remove himself from the bridge due to his apparent emotionally compromised state, but literally every time Saru is in danger Pike risks life and limb to pull him out of the fire. And once Discovery is committed to the conflict, he does everything in his power to protect the Kelpians from the Ba’ul.

But, again, this is Saru’s episode. And he kicks all of the ass. Just, all of it.

(A-Rank)

2×07 “Light and Shadows”

Things start to get less Monster of the Week and more serialized as we hit the middle of the season, so it’s a good thing this season has a pretty damn good overarching story. It’s still not my favorite mode for a Star Trek series to be in, but I can live with it when it’s done this well.

(B-Rank)

2×08 “If Memory Serves”

A transition episode, and firmly establishes the stakes as “all sentient life in the galaxy” and can we please chill out with that. (Admittedly this is probably when those stakes are the most justified because they needed something dramatic enough to justify how the season ends, but it’s just a well nuTrek dips in to way too often.)

This does make up for being a transition episode by including quite a bit of fan service, and… yeah, okay, it totally works. The “Previously on Star Trek” opening makes me grin every time.

This feels like the right time to mention that I just kind of hate how Section 31 is integrated into Starfleet’s command structure. When they’re introduced in DS9, no one on the main cast has any idea who they are and when they learn of their existence they’re rightly outraged by this blatant betrayal of everything the Federation stands for.

Honestly I kind of hate the entire idea of Section 31 and it kind of doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I’m way more willing to shrug it off when they’re not just… around all the time doing this shit in plain view. At least in other portrayals, they could be assumed to have grown to be as twisted and fashy as they are because they’ve been operating in the shadows for literally hundreds of years.

For all my issues with Roddenberry the man I really largely agree with his original vision for what the Federation is and how it operates. I’m not saying the Federation shouldn’t have frailties and shortcomings, I’m just saying they should be frailties and shortcomings that make sense for them

I’m glad Pike and others don’t trust Section 31, it’s just one of the many ways in which he continues to be one of the best captains in all of Trek. But frankly the way Section 31 is portrayed this season (and in this episode in particular) feels pretty continuity-breaking when subjected to the slightest scrutiny.

The only reason I’m not ranking this episode lower is all the Talos stuff really does rule, and the way Section 31 gets outmaneuvered kicks all the ass. 

(B-Rank)

2×09 “Project Daedalus”

I still hate, hate, hate that Section 31 continues to just be a normalized part of Starfleet. Admiral Cornwall indicates in a throwaway line that Starfleet relies heavily on Control’s projections for their overall strategy, like this is just something everyone knows. And it just feels super weird and un-Star Trekky. Like we’re just still on a war footing. (And, again, the Federation-Klingon War really, really never felt the way war has ever been portrayed in Star Trek before.)

Pike confronting Cornwall on the bridge over the subversion of the Federation’s values was all kinds of awesome, even if it was a bit too easily defused.

I’m stalling because the real meat of this story, and what makes me reluctantly admit it’s one of the greatest episodes of Discovery so far, is the death of Lieutenant Commander Airiam. It’s so genuinely hard to watch, this is the first time it hasn’t made me sob inconsolably and that’s because I really kind of didn’t want to cry so I went to a lot of effort to try to feel detached from what was happening.

It just hits me right in a tender spot for so many reasons. There’s this incredible group of smart, dedicated people who are desperate to save her–not the least of whom is Michael Burnam who’s the one who’s physically there. And she just… she just can’t. She keeps fighting to save her to the last moment, and it seems like she would fight past the last moment and lose her own life (and the mission) in the process, and it’s only the intervention of Nhan that saves Michael and the mission.

Right in the godsdamned feels.

(S-Rank)

2×10 “The Red Angel”

Ariam’s funeral gutted me the first time I saw it. Even though I braced myself enough to not cry at her death, the funeral broke through my defenses a bit. It’s just fantastically written, performed, everything. Despite Airiam’s status as a secondary character, I think this is probably the third best Star Trek death behind Spock’s in Wrath of Khan and Data’s second death in season 1 of Picard.

It’s a minor detail when Leland is explaining the Red Angel suit, but the idea of the Klingons being involved in a “temporal arms race” is a joke. That’s just not their style at all. Please learn how to write the space orcs better if you’re going to insist on involving them in your fanfiction. Please.

I fucking love Mirror Georgiou being protective and possessive of Michael. She is so mad about her sub being put in harm’s way.

This is another transition episode, but at least it’s mostly a good one.

(B-Rank)

2×11 “Perpetual Infinity”

Another transition episode, but Georgiou and Gabriella’s “mother to mother” conversation about Michael is just a fantastic moment for Mirror Georgiou and Michael’s relationship without the latter even having to be onscreen. I love how much more explicitly possessive Georgiou is getting of her sub, which Control/Leland tries to use against her but she’s a badass and sees through it immediately.

Speaking of Control/Leland, Control explaining why Leland was the perfect host for it was extremely cathartic. My issues with Section 31 in general, and Leland in particular, have hopefully been made abundantly clear by now. So having the amoral AI bent on wiping out all life in the galaxy explain why he was the perfect host for him… yeah, that super tracked.

(B-Rank)

2×12 “Through the Valley of Shadows”

Pike choosing to continue the mission despite knowing what it’ll cost him is an extremely good boy move, and I didn’t hate the flash-forward visions of the accident, but I did hate the horror movie reveal of him in a wheelchair in a dramatically-lit hallway. It felt like they were trying so hard to do a Serious scene, and it just lacked any subtlety or gravitas whatsoever, it was just so hard to take seriously.

(B-Rank)

2×13 “Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 1”

Long stretches of this episode is just everyone figuring things out and problem solving with a sense of urgency, and I love that shit, it is so Star Trek. We also get the return of Tilly’s other girlfriend, Po, from the first Short Trek!

There are also several wonderful emotional moments. These are highlighted by Pike ordering “eyes up” for Burnham followed by her gushing eloquently about how much she loves them all, Tilly later telling her that their goodbyes needed to be “nonexistent” and dragging her by her hand to her entire Discovery family waiting to see her, and Pike’s emotional farewell to the crew. Although Burnham and Tyler have never been my favorite as a couple, their farewell kiss also made me tear up a little. I wonder sometimes if the reason I’m such a big Discovery stan is that the show got really good at making me cry.

I know all the actual action happens in Part 2, and I know I don’t usually love transition episodes, but this is a two-part ending and Part 1 does such a fantastic job of setting the table and is so empathetic to its characters, giving them all time to prepare for what’s coming. It might be one of the best examples I’ve ever seen of this kind of “calm before the storm.”

(S-Rank)

2×14 “Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2”

Three acts of pitched battle and one act of dealing with the staggering consequences of that battle from the perspective of those left behind. I almost held back from awarding this an S-Rank because of how heavily it emphasizes the (I still believe conceptually ill-advised) relationship between Michael and Spock. But there is so much else going on, and the battle that takes up most of the episode is so thoroughly one of the best in the history of Trek, that it’s difficult for me to maintain my stubbornness.

And ending with everyone left behind, especially the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, is the icing on the cake. This whole season was sort of a backdoor pilot for Strange New Worlds, and leaving it so we knew Discovery was successful but didn’t actually get to see what became of the ship and crew until season 3 was honestly a great storytelling move.

I do hope we don’t get a whole lot of Spock brooding about Michael being gone in Strange New Worlds. I want it to be its own thing, the way Discovery blossomed to emphatically become its own thing in season 3. But, yeah. Season 2 of Discovery was even better than I remembered it being. I still have my rather obvious issues with some of the big picture choices that were baked into the show in its inception, but I’m beyond impressed with what it was able to do in spite of those over the course of its second season.

This is a Star Trek series. It took a minute to get there, but it’s so worth it now that it’s there.

(S-Rank)

S-Rank: 4
A-Rank: 3
B-Rank: 6
C-Rank: 1
D-Rank: 0
Average: 3.92 (B-Rank)

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